Pact needed for the people of the Murray Darling Basin

22 OCTOBER 2008

New research by CSU suggests that social and economic conditions are so difficult in the Murray Darling Basin that researchers are calling for a treaty between government and the people and communities of the region.

New research by Charles Sturt University (CSU) suggests that social and economic conditions are so difficult in the Murray Darling Basin that researchers are calling for a treaty between government and the people and communities of the region.  
 
New findings on the severity of the drought and water shortages in the Murray Darling Basin have been released in a report by researchers at CSU’s Institute for Land, Water and Society.
 
“We call on the federal government to make a PACT – People and Communities Treaty – with those in the Murray Darling Basin who are suffering significant hardship as a result of the ongoing drought conditions,” said Professor Margaret Alston, project leader now based at Monash University.
 
The research summarises statistical evidence of changes within basin communities where drought is a significant contributing factor.
 
The researchers conducted interviews and surveys of 15 local government areas as well as reviewing several drought impact reports and updates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Murray Darling Basin Commission, and the Australian Bureau of Resource Economics.
 
Key findings suggest that many communities across the basin are enduring the negative impacts of drought.  However, due to a variety of factors affecting community resilience, some seem to be coping better than others.  
 
“Generally, the negative impacts of the drought are being felt less in local government areas in the eastern end of the basin and more in the local government areas to the west.  The areas most negatively impacted are the south-west and Riverland local government areas of the Murray Darling Basin,” said Professor Alston.
 
 “Local government areas that have a diversity of employment opportunities like Narrabri, Bungil and Wangaratta, seem to be slightly more resistant to the negative impacts of the drought,” said co-researcher Ms Kym Witney-Soanes from CSU’s Institute for Land, Water and Society.
 
The report outlines recommendations relating to health, seeking help, restructuring, education, reversing the decline of rural communities and government communication.
 
The PACT with the people of the basin should outline the federal government’s:
  • vision for rural and remote areas in the light of climate change, ongoing drought and reduced water availability;
  • commitment to the people and communities in this area through a vision for change and the supports that will be provided to people in these communities;
  • plan for the future of rural and remote areas;
  • acknowledgement that the people in these communities cannot address the future while there is such uncertainty over their industries, communities and people;
  • supports - financial, services and infrastructure - that will be provided to assist people to make informed choices about their futures;
  • investment into human capital so that people in these areas can achieve their potential and access education or retraining to achieve their ambitions;
  • fund drawing on the Future Fund and modelled along the lines of the European LEADER and LEADER plus model that provides investment funding to rural communities to establish new directions for change;
  • and a social taskforce should be established to oversee the vision, the investment in people and communities and the change management process.
The report, 'Social Impacts of Drought and Declining Water Availability in the Murray Darling Basin was funded by the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.
 

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